International Agency of the Year: Havas-Owned BETC Pushes the Envelope and Breaks the Rules

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Lego, one of the world’s most beloved brands, has an internal agency that handles much of its creative output. But when it came time to launch a massive global brand campaign, the Danish toymaker’s first in 30 years, it was BETC that Remi Marcelli, Lego’s svp and head of its 500-person in-house agency, hired to get the job done.

The campaign, which involved a Tom-and-Jerry-esque chase around a city made of Lego bricks, was a highlight of BETC’s year, but hardly its only piece of standout work. Twenty-five years since its inception, the Paris-based agency that’s arguably best known for putting the Evian babies on the map is stronger than ever.

Armed with an eclectic mix of local and international clients, Adweek’s 2019 International Agency of the Year is in the midst of a growth spurt. Since the fourth quarter of last year, it’s won new business from French supermarket chain Leclerc and luxury fashion brand Givenchy, among others. It was also named Michelin’s global creative and strategy agency in July of this year, beating out Ogilvy for the account.

The crux of Lego’s global brand campaign is a nearly two-minute film that takes viewers inside a child’s imagination, where the streets, storefronts and people in a city are all made of the brand’s signature bricks. The campaign also includes some fun print work that subverts gender stereotypes—like a bride carrying her groom, instead of the other way around.

As a result of the winning streak, Havas-owned BETC has made 200 new hires over the past year to support the accounts, all while continuing its brand of irreverent, often envelope-pushing work for established clients such as French television network Canal+ and Lacoste.

“Our business is fundamentally composed of innovation, surprise and impact,” says Stéphane Xiberras, co-president and CCO of BETC France. “From this foundation, anything is possible at BETC. Rules are there to be broken, and what already exists is a springboard for imagining what’s never been done.”

This can-do attitude is appreciated by the agency’s clients, many of whom look to BETC year after year for ideas that will help cut through the clutter.

“They aren’t afraid to try something new, something different and unexpected,” Emilie Pietrini, communications and brand director at Canal+, says. “They create exhilarating, unique ads, something that is increasingly rare these days. At the same time, they understand our brand and our vision, and make sure to keep that in mind throughout the creative process.”

The stats

  • Key Wins (Q4 2018 through present): Danone-owned Danette, Givenchy, Leclerc, Michelin, Mondelēz-owned Prince
  • Revenue: BETC France grew 7.9% between September 2018 and September 2019
  • Strategic Moves: Florence Bellison rejoined the agency as president and creative director of BETC Etoile Rouge, the shop’s luxury, fashion and beauty division.

A busy year

In addition to a flurry of new business, BETC’s year has been marked by work that ranges from heartfelt to completely off the wall. Set to Redbone’s catchy “Come and Get Your Love,” BETC’s 2018 Christmas ad for French telecom Bouygues featured a father whose awkward dance moves are initially a source of embarrassment for his son, but ultimately come to be appreciated.

In French telecom company Bouygues’ 2019 holiday spot, a little girl dials the number of Santa Claus to recite her Christmas list—or so she thinks. It’s really just her dad, who goes to great lengths to convince his daughter that she’s managed to get her hands on Santa’s personal cell (he steps out of meetings, and even out of the shower at one point, to take her calls).

Just days into the new year, the agency released yet another heartwarming ad—this time for Disneyland Paris—that told the story of a duckling who fulfills his dream of meeting his longtime idol, Donald Duck.

But don’t let the sentimentality fool you: The shop’s wry sense of humor is likely why Pornhub tapped it for “Beesexual,” a campaign full of short videos of bees doing the deed (pollinating plants), complete with voiceovers by popular porn stars. Each time someone viewed one of the videos on the site, Pornhub made a donation to a bee-saving nonprofit.

Less racy but equally funny, the agency’s recent tongue-in-cheek campaign for Back Market, a company that sells refurbished smartphones, had some fun with old celebrity tweets. For instance, seeing that Kylie Jenner tweeted her excitement for the impending iPhone 5 in 2012, Back Market responded a mere seven years later to let her know her wish would finally be granted.

This story first appeared in the Dec. 2, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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